“When people lack a critical understanding of their reality, apprehending it in fragments which they do not perceive as interacting constituent elements of the whole, they cannot truly know that reality.” Paule Freire – Pedagogy of the Oppressed
I think of power in a similar vein as I perceive energy. Power can neither be created nor destroyed but transformed and redirected. Power is both an action verb to me and in a way a state of being. People who are allowed to exercise their natural power, in the forms of self agency personally and self-determination on a national level, live in a deeper state of understanding. Power and access to, it is what allows for what I believe Freire was referring to when he said a “critical understanding of reality”.
That being said, my relationship to power has always been one of exposing power and its influence through questioning. Through Guilded, the freelancer worker cooperative, the USFWC challenges the notion that the access to health care can only be made available if you are an employee or shell out large sums of money. Guilded challenges the notion that the power to decide who and doesn’t get healthcare must reside with the employer. Guilded also exposes the inherent power asymmetry between freelancers and the tech platforms that advertise their labor. The critical question becoming, should the primary focus of web technologies be to further exploit the exchange between labor and capital or should web technologies and platforms offer more. Of course which we answer an enthusiastic yes! Web platforms should be for aggregating and solidifying the power of their users – not exploiting or parasitically feeding of of that power.
Power manifest most deeply for me in my personal and interpersonal power. My power , in terms of my role as Project Manager of Guilded at the USFWC is to change and influence the material and mental map of others. This later power is more complicated to understand and wield responsibly because it requires me to recognize the inherent self agency of those whose perspectives I want to broaden, namely people within the freelance economy.
Another mode of power which is explored in some of the teachings by 1000 Currents, is this idea of blocking.
A big part of power, what others might call self agency, is this ability to stop and resist changes that thwart your material and mental standing. Having power along both ends of the spectrum the power to act as well as the power to block should be at the crux of all “empowerment” program.
Currently I view the power landscape around freelancing and contract work in these terms:
Guilded as cooperative has a unique opportunity to challenge the larger questions around worker rights in a free market economy by setting an example of how to provide benefits such as health care access to those the free market economy has mostly told to fend for themselves – freelance and contract workers.
This landscape (shown in the picture above) is littered with other players such as other cooperative development and ecosystem building organizations such as NABSCO,CDI ; lobbying groups, community activist organizations such as Jobs with Justice, and unions such as the Actors Equity Association. The challenge becomes how to get ideological alignment among the groups to better leverage and promote each groups sector of the agenda toward achieving a fairer and more just economy. That requires deepening community with the various stakeholders in those organization while simultaneously appealing to the future stakeholders of Guilded.
In the power map above, to the left, I’ve drawn as what I believe are the leverage points ( indicated by astericks) which Guilded should target in order to position itself organizationally to fully capitalize on the partnership and landscape of the cooperative development ecosystem.